Van Nuys, CA — On Thursday, March 8, after three days of deliberation the jury came back with a guilty verdict in the murder trial of Stephanie Lazarus. Stephanie Ilene Lazarus was convicted of the 1986 beating and shooting of Sherri Rasmussen, her ex-boyfriend’s wife, whose body was found badly beaten and shot in the couple’s Van Nuys townhouse. Lazarus, 51, sat impassively as the verdict was read.
The eight-woman, four-man jury deliberated just under two days before finding Lazarus guilty of the first-degree murder of Sherri Rasmussen. The jury also found true the gun use allegation. “The family of Sherri Rasmussen never gave up their quest for justice for their daughter. Thanks to the excellent and diligent team work of LAPD’s investigators and our prosecutors, Shannon Presby, Paul Nunez and Rosa Alarcon, justice was served today,” District Attorney Steve Cooley said during a brief news conference. Rasmussen, a 29-year-old director of nursing at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, was brutally beaten and shot three times in the chest on Feb. 24, 1986, at the couple’s Balboa Boulevard townhouse. Her husband of three months, John Ruetten, discovered her body when he returned home from work that evening.
For years, police believed Rasmussen was the victim of two male burglars. The murder case had originally gone cold when detectives, who at the time believed the murder was a result of a burglary that had been interrupted, yielded no evidence leading to suspects. In 2004, the case was reopened by LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division cold case detectives who discovered there was DNA evidence in the case in the form of a bite-mark swab. Analysis of the swab revealed the DNA profile was from a female other than Rasmussen. The DNA profile was uploaded into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database of convicted offenders’ DNA profiles, but there was no match. In February 2009, the case was reopened when Van Nuys Area homicide detectives reviewing cold cases reexamined the case with a new theory relating to the women in Rasmussen’s life who may have wanted to kill her. After eliminating the possible other female suspects through interviews and DNA testing, Lazarus was the only remaining suspect. Once investigators obtained a surreptitious DNA sample from Lazarus, a match was made to the bite-mark swab and the case was then turned over to the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division.
The assignment of the case to the division presented special challenges as Lazarus’ office was located next door to the detectives who were now investigating her. Lazarus was interviewed and arrested in June 2009, and her trial began Feb. 6, 2012. Deputy District Attorney’s Shannon Presby and Paul Nunez with the District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division argued that Lazarus was in love with Ruetten and distraught when she learned he was marrying someone else. It concluded Tuesday of this week with the jury beginning their deliberations. “This case was a tragedy on every level,” said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck. “Not only did the family of Sherri Rasmussen lose a wife and a daughter, a life that can never be returned, but also the LAPD family felt a sense of betrayal to have an officer commit such a terrible crime.
To the family of Sherri Rasmussen, I am truly sorry for the loss of your wife, of your daughter. I am also sorry it took us so long to solve this case and bring a measure of justice to this tragedy. We recognize that no verdict by a court can bring Sherri back, nor assuage the grief your family suffered over the past decades. I also want to thank the detectives that followed up on this case. It shows the tenacity of the detectives on the LAPD who will work tirelessly to bring a case to justice, whether that case takes them around the world or across the hall.” Lazarus has remained in custody since her June 5, 2009, arrest at LAPD headquarters. She faces 27 years to life in prison when she returns May 4 for sentencing.